Some six months later, the museum was running, and by most measures successful. Nine to five, Wednesday through Sunday, steady crowds streamed through the former factory. They skewed towards families, thanks to a deal that Marty brokered. While Nathan’s ship was the museum’s centerpiece, he’d conceived of several brightly colored, interactive exhibits that had plenty of levers to flip and buttons to press and weird sounds that could be made. Mr. Hawley complained at first about this—“You’re not providing much information here,” he argued—but he relaxed a bit about the dumbing down of the museum when he realized that he was in charge of engineering a sizeable job for a client that happened to be himself. Carla, meanwhile, programmed applications in support of a number of these exhibits. While she was mildly annoyed that the most consistently popular one was the most pathetically simple one, a game of Tic-Tac-Toe that replaced the X’s and O’s with stock images of aliens and flying saucers, she never complained in public about this.
Marty even started taking his marketing role seriously. Within two weeks of opening, the Northbrook newspaper ran an article on this wacky new museum so unlike what the suburb was accustomed to. Tiny radio stations followed, with jaded failed DJs doing remote broadcasts from within the craft itself. Marty perfected a persona quickly in this phase, answering every question with the precise truth, but in a boisterous tone that suggested the whole thing was an elaborate prank. The DJs, at least, got a chuckle from it, and it made good radio, and even though not one of them believed Marty’s story, they all encouraged their listeners to stop by with quite a bit more enthusiasm than if they had been covering, say, the library’s brand-new display of Midwestern quilts of the 1980s.
It was just over a month after opening that the Chicago Tribune took notice. And once they were on board, the big radio stations, the ones powerful enough to be heard around the lake from Wisconsin to Michigan, started fighting over the opportunity to come, and the local morning TV news shows, and Marty even had the first whiff of interest from national television.
The one drawback to all of this publicity was that it worked too well. It mostly attracted parents with kiddies that they wanted to keep happy for an afternoon, but the serious UFOlogists came too. They were a small minority of the audience, but they hated the museum with the heat of the fusion engines they insisted real aliens had perfected.
So, roughly once a day, Marty would have the opportunity to field an angry phone call from one of these enthusiasts, and today’s was quite typical.
“My name is Randall Buckford, and I am a scientist.” They always proclaimed themselves scientists. It reminded Marty of a rather inept teacher from high school, who taught sociology and spent the first three weeks covering all of the ways in which his subject was a science. Marty nearly failed the class, because about a third of the final exam was questions on whether or not sociology was a science, and he just couldn’t bring himself to say that it was.
I should have posted this segment of Exile Issues (and the second part coming tomorrow) before yesterday‘s excerpt, since it provides some of the background information. The Tic-Tac-Toe bit was inspired by a remarkably popular and enduring exhibit at the Science Museum of Minnesota (where I grew up) — the first room that you went into had a computer that played the game, with the super-big pixels of the late 70’s or early 80’s. I don’t know off-hand precisely how long the game stayed there, but it was always there for as long as my family made its annual visits (which probably lasted until I was about twelve).
The sociology bit also comes from my experience taking the class in high school, which was taught by the second-most-stupid teacher that I had there.* I was never in danger of failing, but at the first open house of the year he told my parents that I was. (The real reason was that I had been out sick for a test that week and the points from the make-up test hadn’t been incorporated into the grade book yet. He neglected to tell my parents this fact.)
*The first taught health, had a [non-accredited] Ph.D. by mail, and one time claimed to have learned everything he knew about biochemistry from the movie Lorenzo’s Oil. While I’m inclined to believe him (the amount of knowledge he had could have fit into a Hollywood movie, with time left for plot, a romantic subplot, a trip to the snack bar, a pair of pee breaks, and at least an hour of making out in the back row), it’s not a quality that I’d look for in a competent teacher.